One might expect a new head coach to be elated after witnessing his team carve out a last-ditch victory against last season’s runners-up when the new Guinness PRO14 season got under way at the weekend. Not Ulster’s Dan McFarland.
McFarland certainly did not lose the run of himself, even though he witnessed scrum-half John Cooney’s 80th-minute penalty sail between the uprights to narrowly nick the spoils from a Scarlets side that were well-shepherded by an enthusiastic Ulster defence which only missed eight tackles all evening.
Lively No8 Nick Timoney topped the tackle chart with 13 big hits while there were encouraging performances from the whole of the backline, particularly new boys Will Addison and Henry Speight, with Stuart McCloskey a driving force in the middle.
Apart from the opening period, Ulster appeared to have control of the game. They allowed the Scarlets to score the only try of the game through fly-half Rhys Patchell in that opening five minutes, and looked to have blown it when Dan Jones floated over a 61st minute penalty to give the visitors a 13-12 lead. But they remained calm and worked their way upfield for Cooney to do the needful at the death.
The perfect start?
“No, not the perfect start,” said McFarland. “The win, yeah absolutely, we’ll always enjoy a win. But by no means a perfect start. In actual fact, if it had been a perfect job, a perfect start, then I think I’d be getting real worried because that’s that, they wouldn’t need me anymore!
The excitement for me comes in getting better day on day and there’s certainly plenty of that to be done. I said I was clear before the game, I wanted a competitive edge, that’s what I wanted to see, I wanted it demonstrated by the individual players and the team as a whole, and I think I got that for a lot of the game.
“Some of the individuals out there really showed that fight-for-every-inch mentality, and no more so than by the fact we had to squeeze it over in the last few minutes.”
Cooney 5 Pens
Patchell Try, Con; D Jones 2 Pens
W Addison (Kernohan, 55); C Gilroy, D Cave, S McCloskey, H Speight; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick (O’Sullivan 55), J Andrew (McBurney, 55), T O’Toole (Kane, 19), A O’Connor (capt), I Henderson (Treadwell, 64), M Coetzee (Henry, 55), S Reidy, N Timoney.
C Blommetjies; T Prydie, S Hughes (Nicholas, 61), K Fonotia, S Evans; R Patchell (D Jones, 49, Price, 76), S Hidalgo-Clyne (G Davies, 61); R Evans, K Owens (capt)(Elias, 61) , W Kruger, D Bulbring, S Cummins (D Davis, 72), B Thomson, J Davies, J Macleod (Kennedy, 66).
Marius Mitrea (Italy)